Cultural cooperation in EU external relations: An overview

During the past few years culture has been increasingly perceived, in the EU's external relations, as a strategic factor of political, social and economic development. One element explaining this is the conclusion of the Convention on the protection and promotion of the diversity of cultural expressions, by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) (UNESCO Convention or the Convention), in 2005 (UNESCO, 2005). For the first time, this Convention provided countries with an instrument in international law that safeguards the actions of states to promote, protect and defend their cultural and linguistic heritage vis-a-vis other countries (Acheson and Maule,

2004). Since 2005, 137 countries have gradually ratified the Convention, as well as the EU. Today the Convention serves as a general framework for cultural action in the EU's external relations, including trade and development cooperation (De Vinck and Pauwels, 2008).

EU external activity is considered to be essential for improving the EU's global 'relevance' (Bretherton and Vogler, 2008; Marsh and Mackenstein, 2005). Various EU official documents emphasise cultural cooperation in this respect. They highlight, for example, 'the importance of cultural diplomacy and cultural cooperation in advancing and communicating throughout the world the EU's and the member states' interests and the values that make up European culture; [and stress] the need for the EU to act as a (world) player with a global perspective and global responsibility' (European Parliament, 2011: 5). EU policies can become models or have an impact on third countries' policies. This can result in a similar process to Europeanisation, 'whereby EU institutions and policies influence national institutions and policies within the various member states' (Pollack, 2005: 40). Applied at the external level, cultural cooperation may allow the EU to have a global impact through one of the main instruments of soft power: culture.

The European Commission (Commission) has stressed the importance of culture for the EU's external policies through two key documents: Europe in the world (2006c) and the European agenda for culture in a globalizing world (2007a). The EU Council (Council) and the European Parliament have also noted the significance of culture: the first in its Conclusions on cultural diversity and intercultural dialogue in EU external relations (2008b), and the second in its Resolution on the cultural dimensions of the EU external action (2011). These documents provide the essential elements for understanding the EU's approach to cultural cooperation with the rest of the world.

EU external cultural activity is spread across various EU policies, including trade, international cooperation (mainly development cooperation and neighbourhood policies) and the EU's culture policy proper. It is based on various legal instruments such as protocols on cultural cooperation in free trade agreements, economic partnership agreements and association agreements; partnership and cooperation agreements; framework cooperation agreements; and agreements on cultural cooperation. It also rests on various funding tools such as the Development cooperation instrument (DCI, see European Parliament and Council, 2006c) (mainly used for Latin American, Asian and South African countries); the European neighbourhood and partnership instrument (ENPI, see European Parliament and Council, 2006d) (for the neighbouring regions as part of the ENP); the culture funding programmes; and so on.

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